I'm beginning to wonder if all it comes down to one question: Do we trust Him? In the garden, Eve bought into the lie that God was withholding something from her. Isn't that what we, deep down, think? Does God really have our best in mind if He asks us to give up everything to follow Him? I pray that you all would begin to wrestle with that question this week, as my new friend, but already dear sister in Christ, Cindy, shares her journey with us. Be moved by the Spirit, and share your reflections!
“Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”~ John Newton
How and when God chooses to open our eyes is a great mystery to me. But I know by His grace He does it, because it has happened to me.
It was my last day in Uganda, Africa, in 2006, and I was ready to be back home. My husband and I were sitting in a tiny church office where hand-written posters about Jesus hung on the walls. We were talking with our good friend, a Ugandan pastor named John, when a small frame stepped in to the doorway. There stood a young boy, obviously malnourished, head down, muttering something we couldn’t understand. He appeared to be about 8 years old.
Three times we asked him to repeat himself, but he spoke so softly, we couldn’t make out the words. Finally we looked at John and asked what this little boy was saying.
“Will you pay my school fees?”
A thousand things flashed through my head at that moment. The first being, this little guy is starving. Why is he asking to go to school? A Mirinda grape soda had just been ordered for me and arrived on a tray, icy cold with a straw in it. I handed it to him.
I asked him to come stand by me so I could hear him. He took two steps to cross the room and was by my side. “What is your name?” “Vincent.” “Vincent, what class are you in?” “S4.” Disbelief. It is not possible that this small boy is a freshman in high school. So I repeat and clarify my question. “How old are you?” “13.”
At that moment, I remember thinking that if I did not take care of this little boy, I would be the most evil person on the planet. That was my exact thought.
Fast forward 4 weeks. I’m back at home hiking a small mountain near our home. At the top, I look down and see the large custom homes sprawling across beautifully landscaped yards with swimming pools. As I look left to see the homes, I notice my strong desire to live there. How could I have an appetite for this after what I had seen? I am remembering Vincent, and I am, possibly for the first time, acutely aware that I am in the midst of a struggle. I did not want to want those homes. But I did. And my desire for them did not vanish, no matter how hard I thought about Vincent.
Mercifully, God took us back to Uganda just 4 weeks later. We visited Vincent and his mother in their tiny shack of a home. Vincent’s mother was widowed, and she ran a food store the size of a small closet in front of her home. We learned both Vincent and his mother had AIDS.
This time in Uganda, I noticed something. I noticed that when I was in the midst of poverty, my want-er stopped wanting. Maybe not entirely, but it lessened. Interesting.
Back home to the U.S. again after 11 days. It’s now August of 2006. I had just come face to face with abject poverty twice within two months. Sometime over the course of the next year, I sat in a chair in my living room, looking at our gorgeous wood floors, crying, because there lay $20,000. $20,000 that I walked on, but could have fed Vincent and a whole host of other children.
But nothing changed. Like good Pharisees, we still gave our 10 or 15% to God, because that’s what we had been taught to do. But nothing changed in our lifestyle. We didn’t give any more because of what we had encountered. We had been involved with this ministry in Africa for more than 10 years. We had now seen firsthand the desperate need. We had met Vincent and visited his home. But in my heart, there was a battle that was not yet won.
In 2007, we began reading a book by Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity. I had grown up in the church and had gone to a Christian school. But this book was a compilation and study of what God’s word has to say about money, and I had not heard anything like it. My husband and I sat there reading one night, and he shook his head sadly and said, “I’ve been a terrible steward. If I were God, I’d fire me.”
“For the word of God is living and active, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit… discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
In 2007, God began teaching and molding us. I discovered that it is His Word and His Word alone that brings conviction that leads to change. I knew all about poverty in my head, I advocated against it and wrote about it, even running a small non-profit organization, and I had seen it with my eyes, but it was His Word that pierced me, that revealed the true condition of my heart, and that began to change me.
That same year, thanks to the book!, we made a decision to sell our home. The instant we made that decision, I thought: “Well, at least if we have to go live in an ugly home, I will still have my beautiful brand new furniture.” By this time, the Holy Spirit was moving rapidly in my life, and I was almost instantly convicted. I couldn’t believe it. Now, not only would I be selling our home that we had poured a year into re-modeling and decorating, but I would be selling the furniture that I dearly loved and had spent countless hours shopping for and purchasing.
At this point, it really became a grit-your-teeth-and-do-it thing. I knew in my head that Jesus said to love my neighbor as myself (which I was clearly not doing), and that if I loved him I would obey His commands.
And for me, the process was a bit like ripping off a bandaid. I was scared to do it. I was afraid of the pain. But when I took the bandaid off, it stung, but only for a moment, and the sting was followed by lasting relief. The process of selling our home took more than a year. And it also took more than a year to sell our “stuff”—furniture, home décor, jewelry, you name it, I sold it. With each item that left the house, I felt a bit of a sting, but each time, the sting lessened.
And in the middle of this process, I discovered something HUGE. SATAN IS A BIG FAT LIAR. He had lied to me my entire life, and I had believed him. I believed that having nice things would make me happy and that parting with my things and my pretty house would make me sad. I could not believe the new freedom that was beginning to emerge in my soul. To this day, I cannot believe it.
I learned that God is totally trustworthy. That He tells the truth, and when He says that friendship with the world is enmity with God, it is true. And when He said that we cannot serve both God and Money, it is true. And when He says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and that through this craving some have wandered away and pierced themselves with many pangs…it is true. I had pierced myself with many pangs, needlessly.
But if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (Exclamation points, mine J)
He came and he set me free from myself. He set me free from my love affair with the world. Really and truly free. I didn’t know this kind of freedom was possible. I realize now that I was in bondage. It really does feel like I’m born again, for the very first time.
One of the last things I did before leaving that house was to dump my collection of home magazines and magazine clippings. It was an act of worship. And it was completely freeing. I recalled what I had learned in Uganda. That when I was staring poverty in the face, my want-er became less active. I realized that these home magazines presented an opportunity for idolatry. They in no way focused me on His kingdom, and the love of beautiful home décor distracted me from my purpose and reason for existence.
“But, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
And I know now that all I need to do to obtain that freedom is to obey. Obedience is followed by blessing. And sometimes we just need to grit our teeth and do it, but we will never, ever be sorry that we have followed His ways.
A few months ago, a friend of ours had a garage sale to raise money for orphans, and I looked around our home to see what else could be sold. I grabbed all of the little items that hadn’t sold before—picture frames, fake plants…a bunch of less-than-$10 items. There on my kitchen counter sat my beautiful paper-towel holder. I felt the familiar sting. (Seriously, how can one love a paper-towel holder?!) But I know the drill now. I picked it up, put it with the pile of things, and it sold. And you know what? I don’t miss it!! I am happy that $8 went to feed an orphan rather than sit and look pretty on my counter.
I am thankful beyond words that He loves us enough to pursue us, to change us, to open our blind eyes. Though I’m sure the scales have yet to fall off in many areas, I can still say with John Newton, “I was once blind, but now I see.”
Vincent is alive, and though still suffering from AIDS, he is on ARV’s that help abate the toll on his body. He is sponsored by one of our friends and attends
school. His brother and sister are sponsored as well.